Maintaining Sanity, Pride Of Lagos
THE vantage position of Lagos State — as a former federal capital and the economic and commercial hub of Nigeria — has continued to make it attractive to all manner of migrants both from within and outside the country in search of better life.
While Lagos is widely recognised as a land of opportunities, where you can fulfil your dreams and accomplish your goal through hard work, in the same breath, subconsciously, it is perceived as a place without any uniform norms or collective purpose — a place where anything goes and people are more pre-occupied with their individual goals of survival and would not hesitate to do anything to survive as individuals at the detriment of the State.
There have been reports in the past of disgruntled elements deliberately digging the roads to slow down traffic so they can sell their goods in traffic.
There has also been unsubstantiated report of unemployed youths in an industrial area in the state purposely blocking drainage during raining season to flood the road and compel commuters to demand for the services of the youth who carry them on their backs to cross the flooded road for a token.
If the unpatriotic attitudes are not glaring, we cannot deny the fact that we regularly see people throwing trash on the street, driving against traffic and committing other traffic offences that complicate the traffic situation, but we turn a blind eye and continue daily chores as if nothing has happened.
It is pertinent to state that population of Lagos State is currently over 21 million and its annual population growth is six per cent. It has also been projected to emerge as the third largest mega city in the world after Tokyo in Japan and Bombay in India by year 2015 with a population of 24.5million (UN-Habitat). With this trend, it is estimated that an average of 1,200 people enter Lagos every day.
While there is a correlation between development and large population in terms of a large productive workforce and large market for the growth of commerce and industry, the population can be a liability rather than an asset if not well managed.
This no doubt is why developed cities of the world sometimes make deliberate policies that will influence the demographic pattern to suit their purpose. The Highly Skilled Migrant Visa (HMSV) of the United Kingdom for instance and the Visa Lottery of USA were deliberate policies to attract specific categories of immigrants.
Though this is not applicable to Nigerian citizens, nonetheless, there is at present no deliberate and conscious effort to curb the influx of illegal aliens from neighbouring countries (who beat the security checks at porous borders) into Lagos metropolis.
With regards to local migrants, the current situation where people just pick up their luggage from the village and come to Lagos without having any means of livelihood or relatives they can stay with pending the time they settle down is a threat to the security of the State.
For instance, findings revealed that vulnerable migrants who do not have shelter and a means of livelihood are usually ready tools in the hands of unscrupulous elements who take advantage of their vulnerability to recruit them for criminal activities.
Also, because they do not usually have any particular skills, it becomes difficult for them to get a steady job that will enable them live a decent life and contribute meaningfully to the growth and development of the State.
And while they are surviving on menial and casual jobs, they do not have any incentive to be law-abiding because it is difficult for law enforcement agents to track them down and prosecute for crimes since they do not have any fixed address.
It is, however, anachronistic that Lagos State seems to be the only city in the world and even in Nigeria where people can just decide overnight to relocate to without a means of livelihood and yet survive.
While there may not be any ready solution at the moment to curb this trend, I, however, believe it is an issue we need to put on the front burner with a view of resolving it.
Lagos seems to be coping well with the case of migrants that come from neighbouring states to access social services in public schools and hospitals and then go back to their respective states.
This also has a minimal security implication on the state because such service users would have to register before they can access the services, which would make it easy for government to track them.
One cannot however say the same of homeless migrants who sleep in churches, mosques, markets, under the bridge and other public places. In this respect, occasionally, when there are security issues in dark spots and security officials apprehend either miscreants who are imminent threat to the society or vulnerable groups such as delinquent children who absconded from home as well as helpless older citizens who have become a burden, they take them to Social Welfare Institutions and offer them care and shelter till they are either rehabilitated and empowered or reconciled with their families.
However, Lagos State Government has a limited capacity in this regard, as its eleven (11) Social Welfare Institutions that shelter different categories of the vulnerable such as children, juveniles, beggars, elderly, physically challenged and destitute amongst others, can only accommodate about 4000 residents.
This is why sometimes when the state is overwhelmed with a huge number of the vulnerable it has to deal with and it is well above the capacity of its welfare centres, the Government usually tries to reconcile such people with their families.
In the event that their family members cannot be traced, they get in touch with the Social Welfare Directorate of their native states to be reconciled with their families or put in the custody of their home States.
While some States have been responding positively to this arrangement, others are not receptive perhaps because they do not have a welfare programme in the states. I suspect this was the case with the former Governor of Anambra State, Mr. Peter Obi, who took exception to the request of the Lagos State Government for him to accommodate some kinsmen who could not demonstrate that they had a home, relative or means of livelihood in Lagos.
It has, therefore, become imperative for Lagos State to take a decisive position and rejuvenate its social schemes as well as security policy.
In this regard, the existing state criminal law on disorderly persons should be publicized and fully invoked to curb criminal activities and forestall any contemplation of terrorist acts in the State.
However, in order to give this policy a human face, Government should channel the energies of homeless citizens who do not have any criminal record positively, in areas where they can contribute to the development of the economy of the State. A visible area where their services could be required is Agriculture and its value chain.
Government should therefore establish farm settlements and food processing zones within and outside the state. The project can be self-sustaining after the initial seed capital and it may not necessarily require regular Government subvention, as trainee-farmers would subsequently be supported to establish their own farms or ventures within the chain.
Private sector players could also be invited to partner with Government in establishing food processing and packaging companies around farm settlements and they buy farm produce off the farmers.
Also, banks can support the initiative by giving loans to trainees who wish to establish their farms after their internship at a single digit interest rate.
Beyond this, there is the need to have accurate and processed data on the citizens and the data from various Government institutions such as hospitals, Internal Revenue Service, vehicle registration office, Lagos State Registration Agency, Lagos State Traffic Management Authority and possibly the police.
This will make it easy to curb crime and apprehend offenders. It will also make life a lot easier and enable citizens have access to credit facilities. Traffic offenders can now be easily apprehended and thus electronic tolling devices, which will not require barriers, can then be introduced at existing toll roads.
Similarly, while adequate data would help in the enhancement of traffic management and reduction of travel time on Lagos roads, it will also improve law enforcement as well as the security and safety of Lagosians. • Dina is author of Evolving Competitive Public Sector in Nigeria.
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